Just on the outskirts of the City of London there is an area known as Spitalfields – I wrote about it on my Bob The Brit site. As I mentioned in my article, it’s an area with a fascinating history that, in recent years, has seen a resurgence with office blocks, delicatessens, restaurants and bars.
To reinforce the area’s increasing importance with regards to food and drink, the operators of the ‘Old Spitalfields Market’ recently decided to resurrect the ancient and traditional role of ‘Ale Taster’ or ‘Conner’.
While the ceremonial role of Ale Conner has continued within the City of London, outside the bounds of the City the role disappeared in the early nineteenth century. Their duties would involve visiting stalls and inns on market days and during the town’s fairs to ensure that the ales, beers and other produce on sale were of good quality.
Applications were invited for this prestigious, if unpaid, role and the organisers were ‘swamped’ with responses, including (you won’t be surprised to learn) one from yours truly.
Sadly, I was unsuccessful in my application as the organisers whittled the applicants down to a short list of six. But, I was flattered to receive an email inviting me to be available as a stand in, in the event that one of the chosen six was unable to attend the finals – perhaps as a result of too much ‘revision’? That was one wait-list I was happy to be chosen for – and when my phone rang when I was only minutes away from the venue I thought I was in with a chance – but the missing finalist turned up with barely moments to spare!
The final selection of ‘Ale Conner’ was to be a competition, held at the market at lunchtime on June 9th. The contestants were to identify unmarked ales from a list, and then give a one minute presentation to a panel of judges – all respected in the brewing industry – as to why they should be given the role.
The Judges were : Pete Brown, a leading beer writer and historian; Steve Wellington, master brewer with the famous White Shield micro-brewery; George Philliskirk, former brewer and known to many UK TV viewers as the ‘Beer Doctor’ and Malcolm Ball, chief executive of the company responsible for Old Spitalfields Market and the revival of this historic role.
The competitors were Christine Green, Nancy Rundhammer, Tom Harman, Daniel Durban, Steve Williams and Jane Peyton, all from London.
The eventual winner was Steve Williams, (pictured on the right) a worthy winner, fine competitor and passionate advocate for London beers – he’s also a former CAMRA Regional Director. His own beer blog can be found at The Beer Justice.
While the competitors were sampling the various brews, a number of local (and not so local) breweries had stalls offering tastings, I met up with Andy Moffat, the founder of the new ‘Redemption’ brewery in North London who were selling their excellent ‘Redemption Pale Ale’ and hope to catch up with him again soon.
Steve Williams will receive a weekly allowance to sample beers as a ‘mystery shopper’ – although he’s a larger than life character so his presence won’t be that much of a mystery – and will be required to report his experiences in a blog – heck it’s a dirty job, but somebody has to do it.
And, needless to say, I’ll be entering the competition again next year.